As we near the close of what’s been the strangest fall semester for most students, it’s only fitting for us all to look forward to winter break. And what a long break it will be! Most colleges are extending the time-off period in hopes of reducing COVID-19 infection spread due to travel and potential family gatherings during the holidays. As a result, a majority of schools finished up on-campus instruction in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
The first hurdle of this unusual winter break is finishing your online classes and exams, depending on your school’s calendar. If you’ve been lucky enough to be on campus at some level this semester, returning home to take exams may feel like a bad repeat of this past spring semester. It can be hard to find peace, space, and motivation when you’re home with your family. Here are some of my favorite strategies for surviving exam season and being more present during break so you can really enjoy the time you have to relax and spend time with your family.
Advice for finishing the semester
Just because you’re back home doesn’t mean you should get lazy after all the hard work you’ve put in this semester. If your college is returning to remote classes and exams after Thanksgiving, here’s some advice for powering through them.
Find a quiet place to work
This could be as easy as your bedroom, but you may have to get a little more creative to find a good space. It could be your back porch if you have good Wi-Fi and it’s still warm enough out there. Maybe nobody comes in your dining room, so you can set up a workstation there. Wherever it is, make sure the space is quiet, has a good internet connection, and is free of major distractions, like your cute puppy or little sibling who missed you all semester.
Whether you’re at home or with your roommates, it’s important to set boundaries around your work schedule. It may feel rigid at first, but setting aside a few hours each day to fully focus without interruptions can be a game changer. Figure out what block of time is best suited to your productivity, then let the people you live with know you’re going to need to be alone during that time. For me, the morning hours are the most monumental for getting things done. No matter what that time is, it’s important to be kind and clear that you need to get stuff done.
Study like your exams are in person
Even though exams are online, do your best to study for them like you’ll be there in person. It’s easy for things to feel less important when you’re online and not actually sitting in a classroom, but your grades still count even if it doesn’t feel like it! Treat them like they matter and study to the best of your ability.
Celebrate your accomplishments
One small way to increase your motivation is scheduling mini-celebrations when you complete your exams. This could be grabbing a milkshake at your favorite ice cream shop, watching a few extra episodes of your favorite show, or hopping on a video call with some friends. Remember that moderation is critical to maintaining a healthy school-work-life balance, and part of that balance is rewarding yourself for a job well done.
Related: COVID-19: How to Stay Productive
Ways to be proactive for next semester
Once final exams are over, you may be wondering how you can occupy yourself in the coming weeks before spring semester starts. For the first time in months, you don’t have a paper or exam hanging over your head—and while it’s freeing, you may also feel like you should be getting things done. Here are some ideas to stay productive and avoid boredom while you’re stuck inside for an extended break.
Build your résumé
Crafting a résumé isn’t time consuming, but it’s something a lot of students put off. While it may take a few hours, you’ll be ready the next time you need to apply for a job, club officer position, or internship. If you’ve already built your résumé, review and update it, especially if it’s been a while. You can also take the next step and create a LinkedIn profile; this professional networking platform can connect you to job and internship opportunities through shared interests and people you know. At a time when the virtual job search is at an all-time high, it’s a great idea to start networking even if you aren’t actively seeking employment.
Begin researching summer opportunities and internships
A lot is still up in the air due to COVID-19. However, now is the perfect time to consider what your summer plans might look like. If you’re hoping to land an internship or another selective opportunity, you should start the research and application process now. When else are you going to have this much time again before May? It may not be the most exciting activity, but you’ll definitely thank yourself later.
Look for scholarships
Scholarships are still available to you! A lot of students don’t realize this, but there are tons of scholarships you can apply for while you’re in college. CollegeXpress is a great resource for finding scholarships online, but you can look around your community as well. Even a $500 award is amazing because that’s $500 less in debt or out of your bank account. Now is a great time to make your scholarship game plan and start applying. You should also look for awards specific to your major, since you may not have been eligible for those scholarships back in high school. For example, if you’re an Engineering major, there may be scholarships directed at upper-level Engineering students.
Catch up on rest and set health goals for next semester
I’m pretty sure all students go into winter break hoping to catch up on sleep, but too often we don’t actually get around to it. It’s easy to stay up until the wee hours of the morning only to be woken up much earlier than we’d prefer. During the break, prioritize your health and hold yourself to a normal sleep schedule of some kind. While you’re at it, set some healthy goals for next semester to reduce stress and keep yourself as healthy (and sane) as possible.
The best ways to spend your free time
While being productive and getting things done can be rewarding, you should certainly be taking plenty of time for yourself and others during winter break. Here are the best things you can spend your time doing to relax, connect, and catch up.
Reconnect with family and friends from home
Be sure to prioritize quality time with your family and friends while you’re home. Although COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we socialize, it’s still possible to see your hometown family and friends. Just make sure to social distance and wear a mask when you’re with people who don’t live in your household. Some fun ideas for this time of year could include ice skating, a (chilly) fire and s’mores night, or perhaps just a socially distanced meal together. Don’t let COVID-19 completely isolate you from your close relationships; as long as you take the proper precautions, it’s possible to reconnect with loved ones!
Find ways to volunteer
December is a special time of year, and part of what makes it so special is that generosity abounds. As college students, we may not have a lot of money to give, but we do have time, and an amazing way to use it is by helping others. Whether that’s serving with your family at a local food bank, bringing some cheer to a local retirement center, or doing some Christmas shopping for a child in need, you’ll feel glad you chose to take some time to invest in others. Volunteer opportunities for winter break will vary depending on where you live and what you’re interested in, but I’m confident you can find something—it will make a huge difference, especially during a pandemic.
Get back to your old hobbies and other forgotten things
Whether you like reading, painting, or playing basketball, reinvesting in your hobbies is a great stress reliever and a way to rediscover yourself over this break. Not to mention, any crafty hobby would make great presents this holiday season! And if you don’t have a hobby to get back to, explore a new one or, alternatively, catch up on things you’ve been avoiding. It might be a doctor’s appointment, getting an oil change, or scheduling a haircut—whatever it is, just go ahead and do it. You’ll feel much better when there isn’t a random life task hanging in the back of your mind.
Declutter your life
I’m a huge proponent of regularly going through belongings to organize and clean out, but this season is an amazing opportunity to begin the new year with a fresh start. This doesn’t mean you need to “Marie Kondo” your room, but something as simple as clearing off your desk and investigating what’s actually in those desk drawers can go a long way in brightening up your room and workspace.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the things you can do this break, but it should get you started. And although I can’t wait for the day we don’t need a reminder, but be sure to wear your mask and follow social distancing protocols over your extended break. It’s so important that we all do our part to keep ourselves and others healthy.